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K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India (2017): A Landmark Verdict on the Right to Privacy

In 2017, the Supreme Court of India, in K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India, delivered a landmark judgment recognizing the right to privacy as a fundamental right protected under the Indian Constitution. The verdict marked a pivotal moment in India’s legal history, greatly impacting the discourse around individual rights in the digital era.

Background of the Case:

The root of the case traces back to the Aadhaar project, India’s ambitious biometric identification system, which sought to assign a unique 12-digit identification number to each of its residents. While the government pitched it as a tool to streamline welfare schemes and combat corruption, concerns arose over the potential misuse of data, leading to violations of privacy. Retired High Court Judge, K.S. Puttaswamy, challenged the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, contending that it infringes on the right to privacy.

Key Takeaways from the Judgement:

  1. Intrinsic Right to Privacy: The bench, comprising nine judges, unanimously held that the right to privacy is an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and falls under the various fundamental freedoms in Part III of the Indian Constitution.
  2. Multidimensional Concept: The judgment noted that privacy is a multifaceted right. It not only encompasses spatial privacy but also informational privacy, giving individuals control over the dissemination of their personal information.
  3. Not Absolute, But Conditional: While privacy is a fundamental right, it is not an absolute one. The state can introduce laws or regulations that infringe upon this right, but they must pass the tests of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
  4. Data Protection: The verdict emphasized the need for a robust regime for data protection, acknowledging the challenges posed by the digital age and the importance of safeguarding personal data.

Critical Analysis:

  • Progressive Interpretation: The judgment marked a shift from earlier decisions, expanding the understanding of fundamental rights and accommodating evolving challenges of the 21st century.
  • Laying Groundwork for Future Cases: This judgment laid the foundation for subsequent decisions, most notably the decriminalization of homosexuality (Navtej Singh Johar vs. Union of India, 2018) and the partial striking down of the Aadhaar Act in subsequent proceedings.
  • Balance of Rights vs. State’s Interests: One of the hallmarks of the judgment is the nuanced discussion on balancing individual rights with state interests. By setting criteria for potential infringements on privacy, the Court provided a roadmap for evaluating future laws and actions.
  • Challenges Ahead: While the verdict set a legal standard, the challenges of implementing data protection frameworks, ensuring data security, and managing state surveillance remain.

In conclusion, K.S. Puttaswamy vs. Union of India is more than a judgment on Aadhaar or data protection. It is a reaffirmation of the Indian judiciary’s commitment to safeguarding the fundamental rights of citizens, especially in an era marked by rapid technological advancements. The decision underscores the evolving nature of rights and the judiciary’s role in interpreting them in the context of changing times.

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

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